chiang mai trekking

4 of the best Chiang Mai trekking tours

What’s amazing about Chiang Mai? It’s home to some spectacular outdoor activities where adventure seekers can hike lush trails, visit local Thai hill tribe villages, go rafting down the river and even ride elephants. If you’re looking for the best Chiang Mai trekking tour that encompasses these unforgettable activities, look no further.

Chiang Mai is a mountainous province in Thailand’s northern region and is host to verdant forests, towering waterfalls, and winding rivers. In addition to its wide range of wildlife and scenic landscapes, it’s arguably the perfect place for outdoor lovers looking for a little adventure.

Take a look at our Chiang Mai trekking tours and let us take you on the adventure of a lifetime.

Our top 4 Chiang Mai trekking tours

While it’s easy to assume that Chiang Mai’s trekking tours are relatively the same, a closer look reveals the different experiences granted among several locations. Read on to learn about four popular tours provided by Bon Voyage Thailand to determine which is best for you.

Provided on the tour

  • Driver and transportation
  • Local Thai meals
  • Hotel transfer (within 3 km of the Chiang Mai City Moat)
  • Accident insurance
  • Basic accommodations (overnight trips only)

Meals are provided on the tour, although the number of meals is dependent on whether the trek is one, two or three days long. All meals will feature local Thai cuisine, but if visitors have any special dietary requirements or restrictions, such as eating vegetarian or halaal meals, please let us know prior to your trip.

On multiple-day tours, groups will spend the night in a shared, dormitory-like sleeping area and will be provided with blankets and pillows. If you are in need of luggage storage during your trekking trip, we offer safe storage at our operating partner office back in the city.

1. Doi Inthanon Trekking Tour

Highlights of the Doi Inthanon Trekking Tour include:

  • Trekking is the major activity (four to five hours per day)
  • Cultural visit to nearby hill tribe villages
  • Swimming at a waterfall

One of the most incredible places in all of Chiang Mai is Doi Inthanon. Located roughly 90 km southwest of Chiang Mai’s Old City within the Doi Inthanon National Park, this country’s highest mountain boasts incredibly green forests, ancient pagodas and nature trails with (quite literally) breathtaking panoramic views of the surrounding valley below.

A typical day on a private Doi Inthanon Trekking Tour begins with a truck drive to the Doi Inthanon National Park, followed by a three-hour hike along a mountainside trail that snakes through an evergreen forest. Nature lovers will appreciate the biological diversity, both flora and fauna, of the national park’s forest.

Birders will be happy to learn that the mountain’s cool temperatures encourage roughly 300 species of birds to flock to its peak throughout the year. Much to the delight of bird enthusiasts, this national park is the most popular destination for bird watching in the entire country.

Afterward, you’ll stop for lunch, which features traditional-yet-simple Thai dishes. After refueling and resting, the hike continues for roughly two more hours through the jungle.

Near the end of the trek, you will pay a visit to either a Karen or Hmong village, just one of the many indigenous hill tribes that live in Northern Thailand. See firsthand their unique customs and dress and even watch as they create beautiful artwork, which can be purchased directly from them to help support their community.

The tour ends with a visit to a beautiful waterfall where you can cool off with a refreshing swim. Change into dry clothes and then relax on the ride home.

Two- and three-day trekking tours are also available if you want to spend more time exploring the Doi Inthanon National Park. Basic overnight accommodations are provided at a jungle camp and at a hill tribe village, in addition to extra meals and drinks.

 

2. Mae Wang Trekking Tour

Highlights of the Mae Wang Trekking Tour include:

  • Trekking (two to four hours per day)
  • Swimming at a waterfall
  • Elephant riding
  • Bamboo rafting along Wang River
  • Visiting a local hill tribe community

Some of the most beautiful natural landscapes can be found in Mae Wang, a district situated roughly 45 km southwest of Chiang Mai City near the base of Doi Inthanon. Even the drive features picturesque scenery of golden rice paddy fields, green water buffalo pastures and acres of orchards.

This trekking trip puts traditional Thai pastimes in the spotlight. A typical day on the Mae Wang Trekking Tour starts with your group taking an easygoing hour-long trek through the jungle and ending with a rest at a picturesque waterfall. Take your time relaxing and cooling off with a swim surrounded by natural beauty before enjoying a simple-yet-satisfying Thai lunch.

Arguably the most anticipated activity on the tour is feeding and bathing elephants. Our guide will be happy to snap pictures of you as you interact with these impressive animals.

The adventure continues with a slow bamboo river raft ride along the Wang River. Guided and propelled by a Thai villager, this peaceful, traditional method of traveling down the local waterways will give you another excellent opportunity to look at local wildlife in the jungle canopies and to reflect on your time spent with the elephants.

Lastly, discover the local culture with a visit to a Thai hill tribe community. These indigenous people are very knowledgeable in farming and weaving and have deeply rooted customs that date back to their ancestors in China. Each tribe has a unique dress, religion, art and culture.

This tour allows the flexibility for trekkers to see more of the hillside of Northern Thailand and is therefore available in one-, two-, or three-day treks. Simple overnight accommodations are provided at a jungle camp and at a local hill tribe village, in addition to meals and drinks. 

 

3. Mae Taeng Trekking Tour

Highlights of the Mae Taeng Trekking Tour include:

  • Elephant feeding
  • Visiting the Orchid and Butterfly Farm
  • Moderate-level mountain hiking (two to four hours per day)
  • Rafting along the Taeng River
  • Visit to a hill tribe village

This group tour will take you to Mae Taeng, a district situated northeast of Chiang Mai’s Old City. Although similar to the Mae Wang Trekking Tour in activities, this tour has a few more hills and requires a little (but not much more!) extra effort. However, it should be noted that this trek is not suitable for elderly people or for families with young children.

Depending on the size of your group for the day, the following activities may be in a slightly different order and will be chosen at your guide’s discretion.

Morning activities include time spent in the company of elephants. For most people who travel to Thailand, this is an experience of a lifetime. The pleasure of feeding and interacting with these gentle giants is unforgettable. Don’t forget your camera!

Then your group will take a brief visit to an orchid and butterfly farm. Here is a collection of indigenous and rare species of orchids that thrive in Thailand’s tropical climate. There is also a small enclosure housing butterflies, where you can watch these delicate insects flutter about.

The Mae Taeng Trekking Tour continues with a hike through the jungle. At the end of the trail, there will be an Akha hill tribe village whose people are distinguishable by their black clothing adorned with bright embroidery and decorative silver coins.

Prepare to get wet with a swim in a local waterfall! You’ll also get to experience a ride down the Taeng River in either a whitewater rafting tube or on a traditional bamboo raft. Although both options are available most of the year, the whitewater rafting may not be available if the river is too low.

There are options to extend this day tour to two or three days. Overnight accommodations, sleeping provisions and additional meals will be provided, and you will be invited to spend the night within a Lahu Hill Tribe village.

 

4. Mini Trekking Tour

Highlights of the Mini Trekking Tour include:

  • Coffee plantation
  • Scenic waterfalls
  • Highest peak in Thailand
  • Visits to iconic Thai structures
  • Beginning level nature trail hike
  • Explore a hill tribe market

The Doi Inthanon National Park is home to many beautiful sites, both natural and manmade. The activities of the Mini Trekking Tour is among the most easygoing hikes and is the perfect choice of day trip from Chiang Mai , especially if you are looking for a less-strenuous adventure, but want to experience several special places in one day.

This private tour begins at a coffee plantation and then continues to a waterfall near the entrance of the Doi Inthanon National Park. Exploring waterfalls is a popular activity with locals and visitors alike throughout all of Thailand, but some of the most impressive waterfalls in Thailand’s northern region can be found on Doi Inthanon. One in particular, the Wachirathan Waterfall, cascades down rocks for an impressive 75 meters and is quite powerful, especially during the rainy season.

You’ll arrive at the highest point in Thailand by car and then visit a stupa dedicated to the king for which the mountain was originally named. Not far away is the Angka Nature Trail, a relatively short and relaxing path with a variety of bird and plant species.

Also nearby are the iconic twin pagodas, two incredible structures built in homage to the current king and queen of Thailand. These immense pagodas are situated majestically on a ridge from which you can look down on to the sweeping views below.

Next, you’ll be able to witness the local Hmong hill tribe villagers bustle about their outdoor market, which features fresh local produce among exciting sights and sounds. This is where lunch will be hosted and will be a simple fare of Thai cuisine.

After a short rest, you will journey along the longest trail of the day to another waterfall. Along the walk, you will see coffee plantations and rice fields in the distance. These are now grown in place of the once infamous opium flower decades prior. Nowadays coffee has become an important crop and the climate of Thailand’s northern region produces high-quality beans.

Depending on the time of year, the rice paddies will be green (growing season) or a golden amber color (harvesting season). Your last stop will be at the hill tribe village that grows the coffee. Here you will get to see a snapshot of the hill tribe’s daily life before returning to Chiang Mai.

 

Activities

Chiang Mai’s hiking trails stretch for hundreds of kilometers throughout the mountainous jungle. Unlike other forests in Thailand that are generally populated with broad-leafed trees and ferns, you may be surprised to find evergreen, pine and mixed deciduous tree varieties as well, as interesting species of moss and lichen, once you begin your hike.

You can look forward to the excitement of exploring northern Thailand and the freedom of being in the exotic outdoors. Trekking is a unique activity in that you can truly immerse yourself in your surroundings and experience new sights, sounds, smells and even textures. And of course, there’s the in-the-moment happiness you get out of completing a trail.

There are several major rivers that flow throughout Chiang Mai Province, so it’s no surprise that water activities are also on the list of things to do and include rafting, as well as hiking to waterfalls and even swimming in them.

Thailand’s rainy season produces notable rapids in some areas of the river, but during the dry season these currents slow down into peacefully gurgling currents. This is the time when you can lazily drift through the jungle on a traditional Thai bamboo raft.

Perhaps one of the most unique activities Chiang Mai offers is a peek into the lives of the local indigenous hill tribes of Northern Thailand. These people have retained their time-honored traditions and dress and behave in a way that is very different from modern Thai society. These hill tribe people are renowned for their beautiful handicrafts, too.

And lest we do not forget feeding and interacting with elephants. It’s an unforgettable experience and one that you’ll be able to soon cross off your bucket list. Click here for more on elephant trekking.

Preparing for your Chiang Mai trek

A little bit of forward planning can make all the difference in making your Chiang Mai trek the experience of a lifetime, versus something you would rather forget. Use the information below to ensure you know what to pack and what to expect.

Weather

Thailand is a notoriously hot and humid country, but its mountains are deceivingly cool. In fact, Chiang Mai is home to Thailand’s highest mountain, Doi Inthanon, which reaches a height of more than 2,500 meters above sea level and maintains a mid-day temperature between 10 and 12 degrees Celsius year-round.

Mountains in this region are pleasantly balmy throughout the year, although the coolest months are December and January. Rainstorms are a regular occurrence from July to October, but because showers only last about an hour or two each day, trekkers will be able to continue their tour, even if briefly stalled by the rain.

What to pack

Trekking doesn’t require much equipment, but there are several essentials to wear. For starters, a comfortable pair of walking or hiking shoes is a must, as well as breathable socks, a pair of shorts and a t-shirt.

Since some of the best Chiang Mai trekking tours include visits to waterfalls, we suggest that you wear a bathing suit under your trekking outfit. Thai culture is modest, so we encourage you to wear a t-shirt over your bathing suit and ask that you refrain from wearing a two-piece bathing suit. Don’t forget to pack a lightweight, but absorbent towel, too.

The Rainy season generally takes place from July through October. Rain showers typically last between one to two hours during the wet season, so it is best to pack a lightweight rain jacket or buy a thin plastic poncho to take with you on the trekking tour during these months. You may like to also pack an extra set of dry clothes to change into.

Rain or shine, the tour will go on as scheduled. If you are bringing a camera, consider using a waterproof camera or using something to protect your camera, such as a waterproof case or cover.

There is little chance of rain during the remainder of the year; this is particularly true during the dry season between December and March.

Personal toiletries and first aid items are important to bring as well. Pack a small ziplock bag that includes sunscreen, mosquito repellent, wet wipes, toilet paper and plasters. Our trekking tours will also have a first aid kit available. Additionally, pack any necessary prescription medications, such as asthma inhalers or epi-pens, specific to your medical needs.

Tips and advice for an amazing Chiang Mai trekking adventure

Whether this is your first time or you are a Chiang Mai trekking regular, use the following tips and advice to get the best out of your trip.

Do your homework

Chiang Mai is blessed with an array of stunning trails and trekking options to suit all levels. Think about what you want to get out of your trekking experience and then find a trek that meets all of your requirements.

You will find that tours are available in varying lengths ranging from day trips to multi-day adventures. They will also vary in terms of the amount of actual walking involved. Think about whether you want to spend a lot time walking or whether you would prefer something more leisurely that involves a greater amount of time spent on activities, such as meeting a hill tribe.

Be sure to do some research into the different routes available and note the terrain. Three hours walking may not sound like much, but if it is all spent climbing a mountain, it will be much more strenuous than a longer, flatter route. Being fully aware of what you are signing up to will make for a more enjoyable experience than over-exerting yourself and being unable to comfortably complete each day.

As you will have noticed above, many treks come with options such as bamboo rafting, visiting elephant camps, meeting hill tribes and swimming in waterfalls. Consider what you would like to experience and how much time you would like to spend on each activity.

Use a good tour company and guide

If this is your first visit to Chiang Mai or you are inexperienced in terms of trekking, it would be advisable to join a tour with a knowledgeable guide, rather than going it alone. Using a guide will ensure that you have the best possible experience; taking suitable routes, seeing the best sights and most importantly, staying safe.

Be sure to use a reputable and well-regarded company.

Consider your fitness level

Whilst none of the treks in and around Chiang Mai require any expert levels of skill or fitness, some of them are moderately strenuous. Be aware of the terrain and amount of walking involved, and choose a trek that matches your capability.

For maximum enjoyment of your tour, it would be wise to put in an appropriate amount of training ahead of time. As well as generally walking, this should also include walking with a backpack, as ascending and descending with weight on your back can take some getting used to.

Take the right gear

It may sound obvious that you need to bring the right gear, but many people spoil their enjoyment of their trekking experience by neglecting to bring things, such as a pair of comfortable, supportive hiking shoes. If you are planning to come in the rainy season, waterproof walking boots are a plus. We have provided a list of essentials in the section "What to pack” above.

Be a responsible tourist

Be respectful of Thai culture and customs, for example by covering up while bathing at a waterfall. When visiting a hill tribe, interact with the people, rather than simply looking at them and taking photographs. Many have learnt a little English over the years, and your guide will also be happy to interpret for you.

Do not leave any rubbish behind when out trekking, and be conscious not to damage or interfere with any of the plants or wildlife you may encounter on your trek.

Stay hydrated

Make sure you carry enough water with you for the amount of time you will be walking. Bring some small change to buy a bottle of water and your guide will be able to advise you where to buy some before you start trekking. Be prepared to carry your own bottle. Drink it at regular intervals; don’t wait until you are thirsty. It is very easy to become dehydrated when trekking in Thailand, and this can be dangerous if severe.

Don’t over-pack

On a Thai trekking tour, it is unlikely that you will have porters to carry your bags, so you should be prepared to carry your own backpack. A small difference in weight can really add up when you are walking for hours at a time. Be realistic about what you need versus what you "might need,” and only pack the essentials.

Expect the unexpected

Remember that you will be trekking in nature and as such, not everything is controllable. The weather may cause schedules to change, things may go wrong, and you will almost certainly experience peaks and troughs in your energy levels. Approach the trek with a positive attitude, a sense of adventure and a sense of humor, and you will be sure to have a great time, no matter what happens.

So what will it be?

Which of our options is the best Chiang Mai trekking tour? It’s really up to you — whether you are a dedicated hiker, a cultural enthusiast, or want to experience a little bit of everything, these tours will be sure to leave you itching for more.